As Alexis Sanchez took the long ball over the top down on his chest, took one touch and then rifled the ball between the legs of Julio Sergio in the Roma goal, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Udinese’s Coppa Italia fairytale was about to go all the way. Sadly for the Bianconeri faithful it was not to be and a titanic final clash of Inter versus Roma awaits us. Udinese had beaten Roma by a goal to nil but they lost two one on aggregate, it was the end of an unexpected run in a cup campaign that had witnessed its fair share of surprises.
The Serie A teams not involved in Europe entered the Coppa Italia in round three and – true to form – the big teams started to roll through. Napoli, Chievo, Siena, Livorno, Atalanta, Catania, Palermo and most notably Sampdoria, who trashed Lecce 6-2 with a master class from Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, all sailed through the unscathed. This was not the case for everyone as both Bologna and Bari went out on penalties to Empoli and Frosinone respectively. Triestina’s defeat of Cagliari was equally surprising, but the shock of the round had to be the elimination of Parma, who somehow conspired to lose 1-2 to lowly Novara, a team from the Lega Pro Prima Divisione A.
The next round also threw up a few shock results. Whilst the majority of the Serie A clubs marched on in style, Lumezzane – from Lega Pro Prima Divisione A – amazingly beat Atalanta away, Michele Marconi the hero. It was Novara again who stole the headlines, after disposing of Parma in the previous round, they went on to beat Siena, a Pablo Andrés González brace setting the away side up with a dream tie – a trip to the San Siro to play Milan. Elsewhere, Empoli and Frosinone could not repeat their heroics of the earlier round, losing respectively to Catania and Chievo killed them off both winning 2-0. Triestina also went through beating fellow Serie B opposition to now face Roma in the next round.
It was now that the big guns came into play and it must have been with some trepidation that Novara travelled to Milan. Triestina entered the gates of Rome with the very real prospect of being fed to the lions whilst the last non Serie A team – Lumezzane – had a tough trip to Udinese to contend with. It was here that the fairytales were ended one by one. Milan in truth did not find it easy against Novara, González had equalised for the minnows and it was not until the 80th minute that Mathieu Flamini’s wonder strike spoiled the party and put the home side through. Roma were in for a scare after Luigi Andrea Della Rocca’s fifth minute strike gave the away side the lead, however, Roma were too strong and scored three to go through. Udinese also came through two nil, lighting up an otherwise dark season.
The quarter finals saw Inter beat Juventus in the tie of the round whilst Fiorentina played out a 3-2 classic with Lazio to gain a place in the semi finals. Roma beat Catania buy a goal to nil and Udinese, perhaps inspired by Lumezzane’s pluck and guile, pulled off the performance of the round beating Milan by a single goal. The semi finals started predictably with Inter beating Fiorentina over two legs 1-0 and 0-1, to book the first place in the final. Roma too had beaten Udinese 2-0 and looked set to join the Milanese giants, but when – with 9 minutes to go – Alexis Sanchez scored for Udinese it looked for a minute that the spirit of Novara, Lumezzane and Triestina was with them. Minutes later, when Goran Inler shaped up to shoot, it looked like the impossible could happen, but he was cruelly denied by the post. Udinese had come close to providing the perfect under dog story, but ultimately fell at the final hurdle.
It is now May 5th at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome where Roma will face Inter in a clash that could see either team clinch or deny the other a league and cup double. The Scudetto will have one more game left to play and may not be decided, adding even more importance as to who will grab the first piece of silverware. In the past five years both Inter and Roma have won the cup twice and both Mourinho and Ranieri will be wanting to end the season with as much success as possible, the former is in search of a famous treble whilst the later is attempting to bring glory back to his home town club. When watching this clash of the titans please spare a thought for the nearly men of Novara, Lumezzane, Triestina and Udinese who have brought a sense of magic and intrigue to this years Coppa Italia.